Russia blames US for putting ‘colossal pressure’ on allies

Moscow says it 'will respond' to mass expulsion of its diplomats globally

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN:  Moscow yesterday charged Washington had put "colossal pressure" on allies to expel scores of Russian diplomats and vowed to retaliate.

"This is the result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail, which is the main instrument of Washington on the international arena," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Uzbekistan.

"We will respond, have no doubt. No one wants to put up with such loutish behaviour, and we will not."

At least 116 alleged agents working under diplomatic cover were ordered out by 22 governments on Monday, dwarfing similar measures in the most notorious Cold War spying disputes.

The expulsions were a response to the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

The row has plunged Russia's relations with the West to new lows amid ongoing tensions over Ukraine and Syria.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, Mr Lavrov said the expulsions justified Russia's view that there are "few independent countries" remaining in Europe.

Comments by British Prime Minister Theresa May blaming Russia for the poisoning were "simply an affront to the system of Anglo-Saxon justice", he added.

Australia joined in the coordinated diplomatic move, expelling two Russian diplomats yesterday that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said were "undeclared intelligence officers".

Russian media yesterday shared the view that the coordinated expulsions have plunged Moscow's relations with the West into a new "Cold War".

Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin daily, denounced what it called a "flash mob".

Political analyst Fedor Lukyanov said in the Vedomosti business daily: "Relationships between Russia and the West are entering a period of an all-out Cold War. The expulsions will be particularly destructive for Russian-American relations."

He expects the West to issue "much more severe economic sanctions" against Russia.

Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said Russia's foreign policy has been fired by "the concentrated energy of self-destruction" since 2014, the year when Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, incurring retaliatory economic sanctions from the West.

Britain yesterday hailed the mass expulsion.

"Never before have so many countries come together to expel Russian diplomats," British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote in The Times, calling it "a "blow from which Russian intelligence will need many years to recover".

"I believe that yesterday's events could become a turning point," he said. "The Western alliance took decisive action and Britain's partners came together against the Kremlin's reckless ambitions."

Mrs May told senior ministers yesterday that there was still more to be done in Britain's long-term response to Russia.

"Yesterday was a significant moment in our response to this reckless act of aggression, but there is still more to be done as we work with international partners on a long-term response to the challenge posed by Russia," her spokesman said.